We are writing to you because we are greatly concerned by the humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border. We call for action to put pressure on the Polish government to stop the use of push-backs and violence at the Polish-Belarusian border and instead, to provide lawful and humanitarian aid to migrants stranded at the border.
People are dying in the border zones of Poland and Belarus. There are reports of thousands of migrants, including young and old, men, women (also pregnant women), children and babies, stranded between the two countries, unable to leave the horrid refugee trail. So far, we know of ten deaths, but the true number of casualties will never be known. The civil society in Poland urges the government to act and resolve the humanitarian crisis at the border, but the government doesn’t listen. On the contrary, the Polish government does not provide any form of protection nor humanitarian aid to the migrants, and denies their rights to asylum. The government instructed the Polish Border Guards to push the asylum seekers back to Belarus. We also read reports of growing cruelty among the Polish Border Guards.
The migrants, who are often war victims or seek political exile, come to Belarus on tourist visas offered by the Lukashenko regime. The visas are advertised as a fast and simple way to break into the EU. The migrants quickly understand they were deceived and in fact, are used as live weapons by Lukashenko to destablise the European Union eastern borders. They are transported near the border with Poland and forced to cross the razor fences. The migrants report being harassed and physically abused, robbed, and have their passports taken away by the Belarusian Border Guards. They are pushed into the dark border woods, walk through the unknown land, sleep on bare ground in plunging temperatures, without access to fresh water, food or medical aid for days and weeks. If they manage to cross the border, they risk being caught by the Polish Border Guards (some eventually pay a lot of money to smugglers to reach Germany, others die). The Polish Borders Guards do not provide any form of international protection or aid, instead they push the migrants back to Belarus. The migrants are then again blocked by the Belarusian guards and unable to leave the border zone. This human ping-pong continues endlessly. The migrants cannot return to their home countries nor go to the EU border checkpoints. They are trapped in the border dense woods for weeks desperately looking for survival!
We condemn Lukashenko’s aggressive tactics and call for action to prevent using humans as live weapons. We censure the political and inhumane decisions of the Polish government, including the use of pushbacks, denying asylum and not providing humanitarian support. All these methods are against the international conventions, Polish constitution and Polish law.
We also stand against the use of public media by the Polish government to spread hideous propaganda about migrants on the border, accusing asylum seekers of being a terrorist threat, of practising zoophilia and paedophilia. Independent media and non-governmental organizations are not allowed in the areas closest to the border with Belarus due to the enforced state of emergency. This is in accord with the government’s long-standing feud to restrict human rights in Poland, including the attack on the independent media in the country.
Thanks to the hard work of local volunteers and activists, we know some stories from the Polish-Bularusian border zone. The Polish society was indeed shocked when the first photos from the Border Guard post in Michalowo (a town outside the state of emergency zone) were published in Gazeta Wyborcza and OKO.PRESS on 27.09.2021. A group of 20 people with children aged 2-6 years old sat in front of the guard post on the ground, begging to stay in Poland, asking for asylum. They had dirty clothes, too light for the autumn weather in Poland, especially at night, in the forest. Activists were trying to give them food, water and were ready to sign power of attorney documents. Despite all these efforts, the asylum seekers - including children - were transported to the forest and pushed back to the Belarusian side. This was officially confirmed by the Border Guard spokesperson. (I attach the photos taken at the site by Agata Kubis from OKO.Press).
According to the statistics provided by the Polish Border Guards, only 1.2 thousand people have been sent to the guarded refugee centres since the beginning of August. The Border Guards report 8.2 thousands of "Failed attempts to cross the border." Based on another report, among about 500 migrants, who had been recently pushed back to Belarus, 20-30% were children. The Polish Border Guard spokesperson confirmed that children are pushed back to Belarus. She also stated that pregnant women are never sent back to Belarus, but we know from activists and local volunteers that this is not the case. There are reports of women suffering miscarriages which is a likely tragic consequence of push-backs and living in an extreme environment.
Activists from the Border Group (Grupa Granica) and local volunteers help people outside the emergency zone. Every day and night they distribute food, water, dry clothes, power banks and emergency packets to the asylum seekers found in the forest. If Border Guards are present, the activists monitor the situation and whether correct asylum procedures are observed, preventing push-backs where possible. They report witnessing the Polish guards use violence against the asylum seekers. Despite the activists’ efforts, the majority of the migrants are pushed back to Belarus on the same day of being caught. If they require medical assistance due to a life-threatening condition such as hypothermia, they will be admitted to a hospital for a ‘quick overnight treatment’ and sent back to Belarus a few hours later. Without food, water, or warm clothes. Children, women, men of all ages - in an extremely poor state, without any possibility of returning to their home countries, without any chance of survival.
We condemn the Polish government for violating the Geneva Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Polish Constitution and internal law. On 15t October 2021, the Polish parliament passed the amendment which states that foreigners who are stopped by authorities for crossing the Polish (European) border irregularly will be obliged to leave the country immediately and will be temporarily banned from entering Poland for months or years. These procedures are against the Polish Constitution and the Geneva Convention. The European Tribunal of Human Rights ruled that lawyers must be allowed access to the group of 32 migrants camping in Usnarz Gorny, who were one of the first to be found on the Polish-Belarusian border. The government never allowed access to the asylum seekers - the migrants were pushed back to Belarus.
We understand that the situation at the Polish-Belarusian border is one of many dreadful testimonies of the global humanitarian crisis that we are currently witnessing. In the wake of the humanitarian crisis, we call for international action and protection of human rights for all people globally.
We call for worldwide political unity to address the migrant needs and counteract global disasters which inevitably lead to conflict zones, poverty, and human displacement. Particularly we appeal to you to act and condemn the illegal and inhumane procedures which are enforced by the Polish government on the Polish-Belarusian border.
We thank you for supporting our cause on behalf of the civil society in Poland.